Ad Lib, Inc.

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This page is about the (now defunct) sound card company based in Quebec City, Canada, named Ad Lib, Inc. — not to be mistaken with the software company Adlib Software or Adlib Information systems [1]. See ad lib for information on the Latin phrase.

Ad Lib, Inc. was a Canadian manufacturer of sound cards and other computer equipment founded by Martin Prevel, a former professor of music and vice-dean of the music department at the Université Laval. The company's best known product, the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card (ALMSC), or simply the AdLib as it was called, was the first add-on sound card (on compatibles) to achieve widespread game-developer acceptance, becoming the first de facto standard for audio reproduction.

Today the AdLib's functionality can be recreated with emulators such as AdPlug and VDMSound (the latter is now deprecated but its source code has been incorporated into DOSBox).

Marketing[edit]

After development work on the ALMSC had concluded, Prevel struggled to engage the development community with his company's new product. For example when he handed out development kits at trade shows, with the hopes of having them reach development staff at software companies, the attendees simply used the handouts as personal entertainment, or discarded them outright. Needless to say, the Adlib hardware was not reaching its intended audience, developers with the PC gaming industry.

AdLib Music Synthesizer Card

Subsequently, Prevel engaged the assistance of Top Star Computer Services, Inc. (also known as TSCS), a New Jersey company that provided quality assurance services to game developers. Top Star's President, Rich Heimlich was sufficiently impressed by a product demonstration in Quebec in 1987 to endorse the product to his top customers. Sierra On-Line's King's Quest IV became the first game-title to support the AdLib. The game's high audio-production values, including a hired professional composer, riding on an already popular game-franchise, catapulted the AdLib card into mainstream media coverage. Soon, all game developers embraced the Adlib, hoping to give their software a competitive edge.

On the retail-channel side, most retail stores chains and wholesale distributor were selling AdLib sound cards by 1990.

Specifications[edit]

The AdLib used Yamaha's YM3812 sound chip which produces sound via FM synthesis. The AdLib card consisted of a YM3812 chip with off-the-shelf external glue logic to plug into a standard PC-compatible ISA 8-bit slot.

PC software generated multitimbral music and sound effects through the AdLib card, although the acoustic quality was distinctly synthesized. Digital audio (PCM) was not supported, a key feature supported by later competition, particularly the Creative Labs Sound Blaster. It was possible to output PCM sound through the AdLib card with software by modulating the playback volume at an audio rate, as was done for example in the MicroProse game F-15 Strike Eagle II [1] and the multi-channel music editor Sound Club for MS-DOS.[2]

The engineers who developed sound cards and software libraries for Ad Lib worked at Lyrtech.

AdLib Gold[edit]

Ad Lib planned a wholly new proprietary standard before releasing the 12-bit stereo soundcard called the AdLib Gold. The Gold card used a later generation Yamaha YMF262 (OPL3) and 12-bit digital PCM capability while retaining backward compatibility with the original AdLib.

This effort was doomed from the start: Ad Lib was not a technology company and lacked the required skills in-house to design the Gold card. Hence the task was handed over to Ad Lib's component supplier, Yamaha. Creative Labs was already Yamaha's biggest customer for music-based technology, generating a conflict of interest that delayed the Gold's development process.

When the Gold card was finally released, the Sound Blaster series was entrenched as the de facto PC sound card standard, and priced significantly cheaper than the Adlib Gold. Few PC game developers supported the Gold directly, and fewer gamers bought it.

The AdLib Gold was also produced for the MCA-bus, named AdLib Gold MC2000.

Bankruptcy[edit]

The success of the AdLib Music Card soon attracted competitors. Not long after its introduction, Creative Labs introduced the competing Sound Blaster card. The Sound Blaster was fully compatible with AdLib's hardware, meaning it would play any past, present, and future game written for AdLib's own card. But it also added two key features absent from the Adlib: a PCM audio channel, and a game port. PCM audio could record and play digital-audio recordings, which included dialogue, sound effects, and short musical performances. Although the PCM audio-fidelity was scarcely better than AM radio, it allowed game developers to include realistic sound-effects and speech that could not be reproduced by the Yamaha's FM synthesis, and proved very popular among game developers. Finally, the Sound Blaster's inclusion of a game-port made it a single-card gaming system.

With a superior product and better marketing, the Sound Blaster quickly displaced AdLib as the de facto standard in PC-gaming audio. AdLib's slow response, the AdLib Gold, did not sell well enough to sustain the company.

In 1992, Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy while the Sound Blaster family continued to dominate the PC gaming industry.

In 1992, a conglomerate from Germany, Binnenalster GmbH, purchased the assets of Ad Lib from the Government of Quebec, who had acquired it to prevent Creative Labs from buying it. The company was renamed AdLib Multimedia and launched the AdLib Gold soundcard and many other products.

The German conglomerate sold AdLib Multimedia to Softworld Taiwan in 1994.

Timeline[edit]

  • 1987 - AdLib Card - First mass market PC soundcard for computers released using FM synthesis (YM3812 chip by Yamaha)
  • 1988 - Sierra Entertainment's King's Quest IV, the first PC game to support AdLib
  • 1992 - AdLib Gold released.
  • 1992 - Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy on May 1.

References[edit]

  1. ^ F-15 Strike Eagle II, myabandonware.com
  2. ^ Sound Club DOS on bluemoon.ee, http://www.bluemoon.ee/history/scdos/index.html

External links[edit]